Friday, January 29, 2010

The Art of War - Chapter 1 - Part 3

After listing the five measures (see Chapter 1 - Part 2), Sun Tzu provides an explanation of each of the elements. Throughout the Art of War there are a number of places where Sun Tzu offers an explanation through the use of contrasts and by listing elements which, when grouped together, provide a more complete explanation of the point he is trying to make. If this seems a bit daunting, consider the way the none of the traditional elements that make up a true project plan (Charter, Risk Plan, Communications Plan, Project Schedule, etc.) provide as complete an explanation of what the project entails individually as they do when grouped together.

The Tao (The Way)

Sun Tzu explains The Tao (or The Way) as the thing that unites men with the mind of the person leading them in an unwavering way, despite the threat of death. For a project, or an organization, this would extend beyond a mission or vision statement into how it plays out within the culture of those involved, either uniting them, or not.

Heaven (The Political Environment)

In defining Heaven and Earth, which I defined (in Chapter 1 - Part 2) as being akin to the Political Environment and the Organizational Structure, they are respectively explained as a balance of opposites and measures.

Heaven is
Yin and Yang,
 Cold and Hot
 The cycle of seasons

When applied to a political environment, the cyclical, dynamic but dependable state of the four changing seasons gives context to the listing of the opposites above. The political nature of an organization will always be in flux. There will always be opposing forces, but the dynamically shifting nature of that balance is something to be relied upon and carefully monitored. So, regardless of what type of political situation you face, you can always depend on the fact that change is coming and no matter how things are balanced today, they will be different tomorrow. Trust in the change, not in the state.

Earth (The Organizational Structure)

The organizational structure, or Earth, is defined in a list of actual measures:

... Height and depth,
 Distance and proximity
 Ease and Danger...

While it may be simpler to see, it is no less critical than the political environment/Heaven. Because it is less abstract, it can be examined in a more exact way, using more tangible metrics. However, Heaven and Earth are paired in the Art of War. The organizational structure and political environment can't be seen individually. They are a pair, and moreover, as part of the five measures, just two of the ways we experience that with which we are interacting.

Command (Leadership)

In explaining what he means by Leadership, or Command, Sun Tzu provides a list of ingredients. I have always worked under the assumption that these have been listed in a particular order based on the overall importance of each to organizational maturity (with Wisdom being prized above all and Severity as the lowest ranking critical value), but that may just be me. Either way, if you were to examine an organization and rate them along each of these points, you would be able to develop a fairly clear understanding of the overall value system and (arguably) maturity of that organization.




Discipline is perhaps the easiest of the five measures for a project manager to understand. It is defined as...

 Chain of command
 Control of expenditure

This is a simple, concrete explanation.

Sun Tzu closes out this section of the chapter by saying that every leader is aware of the five measures, but there is a difference between being aware and truly understanding them.

He who grasps them wins
 He who fails to grasp them loses

According to The Art of War, there are five vantage points from which you should be studying any organization/company/opportunity/opponent/insert name of thing you are facing that you are scared of or do not understand here. If you study the five measures for your situation to a point where you have true clarity on each of them, then by your very understanding of them, you will succeed. However, if you don't, by your very lack of understanding, will fail.

To use a simple analogy, assuming you have all five of your senses available to you, (because as Sun Tzu says, "Every commander is aware of these five fundamentals", you experience the world through taste, touch, smell, sight and sound, all together. If you had the ability to see, but started ignoring any visual input, how true would your understanding of the world be? How successful would you be in it? And perhaps more importantly, how safe would you be?

Quotes listed in this entry are taken from John Minford's Penguin Books Great Ideas translation "Sun Tzu The Art of War (Strike with Chaos)" published by Penguin books in 2006. The passage covered in this entry can be found on pages 2 and 3 of the book. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Project Potion #5 - The Art of War

The Project Shrink, Bas de Baar and Dave Prior talk about responses to Episode #4, the Exploding Mailbox, Dave's new Art of War blog series, the Crisis Commons response to Haiti and the cultural differences between the current generations in the workforce.

For more Project Potion ->

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Art of War - Chapter 1 - The Five Measures

In the Art of War, as soon as Sun Tzu finishes explaining how serious the topic of war actually is, and how much careful examination it requires, he begins explaining how to go about studying it.

2,500 years ago Sun Tzu came up with a list of five things he said had to be considered first and foremost when one was going to engage in conflict. He referred to these as The Five Measures. They are:
  • Tao
  • Climate
  • Ground
  • Leadership
  • Method

My favorite explanation of how these five measures work is Gary Gagliardi's and it can be found in this book, or this video lecture (sadly, out of print). However, Gagliardi’s explanation is a little more focused on the sales and business side of things, so for people managing projects, a good way to think of these five measures is :
  • Tao - The philosophy that guides your opponent
  • Climate - The political environment you are dealing with
  • Ground - The organizational structure you are dealing with
  • Leadership - The leader’s character and decision making skill
  • Method - The efficiency and effectiveness of the applied Tao
Su Tzu says that if you study these five measures, you have to look at them as they relate to not only your opponent, but also yourself, and that if you are able to do that, you will be able to use them in order to achieve success.

He goes on to say that if you do not know these five measures, you cannot plan for success or prepare to achieve it.

In hopes of making it a little easier to apply, here are some examples of the kinds of things you might consider when applying the five measures to your own situation: (I've paired them up and listed them out of order because I think it makes them easier to understand).

Ground - What is the org. structure? Who is supposed to report to whom?

Climate - What is the political power structure? Despite the org charts, who really has the power to influence and make things happen - perhaps most importantly, who has the power and motivation to pose a threat to the work you are doing?

Leadership - What is the leadership style of the organization/people you are dealing with. For instance, some leaders are very command and control ("You can be in the boat, our of the boat"); others are more concerned with a shard or diplomatic solution.

Discipline - How strictly does the organization follow its' own defined process. For example, there are lots of PMOs out there will very clearly defined processes that are not supposed to be deviated from... and yet often times, people spend more time working around the regulations than they do following it or adapting it.

Tao - This one is not always an easy thing to grasp for those who are not used to it. In the context of what we are talking about here, the Tao would refer to the nature/character/vibe of the place. Some orgnaizations place a high value on creativity and freedom for responsible, engaged teams. Others are more about people working 9-5, following a process without much though or personal involvement in why things are done the way they are, or finding ways to make them more efficient.

If you take the time to explore these concepts and learn what they mean to the places you are working, it will better enable you to make the necessary decisions about how to approach your work.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Art of War for Project Managers

Chapter 1 - Analysis

"This is war.
It is the most important skill in the nation.
It is the basis of life and death.
It is the philosophy of survival or destruction.
You must know it well." *

In Sun Tzu's world, war was a heavy thing. Brutal, costly, painful and only to be taken on when it was absolutely necessary.

And when it was necessary, the only way to set yourself up for success was to become a student of the thing you were about to spend people's lives on.

For those of us who manage IT Projects, this may seem a bit over the top if you try to apply it to your work, but when you come right down to it, it isn't that far off.

Each project we take on levies a heavy toll on us and the places we work. We burn money, people, reputations, good will and more often than not, our life outside of work.

We've all worked with the people who create projects just to seem busy, or create giant catastrophes just to save the day. More often than not, these people get sorted in the end, but the thing to keep in mind for each of us is, if you are going to take on a project, and burn through all those things that could be used on something else the company needs to stay afloat, or the time you need outside of work to be with your family, make sure you understand why you are doing it, what you are going to do, how you are going to succeed, and most of all, what you are going to do when you realize you got the first three questions wrong.

* The translation above is from Gary Gagliardi's book "Sun Tzu's The Art of War Plus Its Amazing Secrets". Of all the translations I own, there are only two that are so worn the pages are falling out. This is one of them.
The Art of War for Project Managers


I've been studying the Art of War and working on applying it to my day to day work as a Project Manager for almost 15 years now. While I've lectured on it and taught classes that covered the whole text, I've never detailed out my ideas on how each piece can be applied to the work of a project manager.

My goal here is to post a new entry every few days until I've worked through the entire book. I'll be referencing multiple translations and will give notes on each one in the entries.

As always, any comments or feedback would be greatly appreciated.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Project Potion Episode 4 - The Exploding Mailbox

(Where The Project Shrink, Bas de Baar and I answer some of the questions folks sent him when they blew up his mailbox.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

DrunkenPM Explained

I've been told by a lot of folks that I should change the name of my blog. I may be weakening on that one, but I'm not totally ready to throw in the towel just yet. The assumption a lot of people make is that the title has to do with drinking or that it is some self-depreciating joke. Neither of which earn me much in the way or respect or credibility, but the fact is they have nothing to do with the title.

What I wanted to talk about when I started the blog was a style of project management that was a little more stealthy and subtle ... more under the radar than what most people employ. To me, the best project management happens when people don't realize it is going on. I also think that, a lot of the time, I can accomplish more as a PM by not acting like a PM because people feel more at ease, or less threatened, if they don't think you are there trying to control them, or check up on them.

So, I needed a name that fit with all that, and I apparently watched way too much Kung Fu Theater on Saturday afternoons growing up because the best fit I could think of was Drunken Boxing. I could give you my explanation of it, but since I don't practice any martial arts, I think I should leave it to those with more experience.

This clip is from an episode of Fight Science and it provides a much better explanation of Drunken Boxing that I ever could. While you watch, imagine applying the behaviors to managing people and work - that is the point of the title of this blog.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Project Potion Episode 3 - The New Team

I am happy to report that the Project Shrink, Bas de Baar, (@Projectshrink) and I have posted Episode 3 of Project Potion - The New Team. This conversation focuses on the things we need to deal with when putting together a new team for a project.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Shannon and Weaver and the Personal Branding Paradox

On the personal branding front, the “very personal” message you had previously recorded, which was played for me when I answered my cell this evening might have come across a little more sincere if you did it before you decided to take legal action against me.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

MITPM 2009

(From the Q4 2009 IT&T SIG Newsletter)

By Dave Prior and SK Khor

During the first week of December, IT&T SIG Chair, Petra Goltz and IT&T SIG Past Chair, Dave Prior had a chance to join IT&T SIG Asia Pacific Regional Director, SK Khor and PMI Fellow and 2006 PMI Chair Iain Frasier for MITPM 2009 Conference Awana Genting in Kuala Lumpur.

MITPM is an annual regional project management conference focusing on ICT industry and the IT & Telecom SIG has been supporting the event since 2006. The growth of project management in the area is an amazing success story and it has been fueled by a unique pairing of private and government resources who have worked together for the past few years to ensure that it established a solid foothold as technology and PM best practices take root in the region.

This year, Keynote Speaker and IT&T SIG Chair, Petra Goltz led things off with her talk "Beyond 2009: New Challenges for PM" (see her article “Challenges for Project Managers in the years ahead “ in this newsletter). IT&T SIG Past Chair Dave Prior followed with a presentation on the new PMIS Paradigm and introduced some tools and alternatives that are available for PMs as we move into and beyond Web 2.0 and Social Networking. Then PMI Fellow and 2006 PMI Chair, Iain Frasier, led a very insightful roundtable discussion on the topic of "Project Governance in a Challenging Time" and followed up with a workshop called "The Fast Track PM: Managing Multiple Priorities".

(Video of these presentations will be posted for IT&T SIG members in the coming weeks – stay tuned for more details.)

MITPM is supported by a number of sponsors including a nationwide initiative in Malaysia called Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Malaysia. MSC Malaysia is currently hosting more than 900 multinationals, foreign-owned and home-grown Malaysian companies and it is rapidly becoming a dynamic hub for the ICT industry in the region. MSC Malaysia is directed by the Multimedia Development Corporation ( or MDEC. MDEC is committed to “drive MSC Malaysia by empowering businesses and connecting communities through ICT; and to facilitate Malaysia’s goal of becoming the preferred location for ICT and multimedia innovations, operations and services.”

During MITPM, IT&T SIG Past Chair, Dave Prior had the opportunity to spend some time with MDEC’s Chief Operating Officer Ms. Ng Wan Peng, Head of Capability Development Dr Karl Ng and Manager Ms. Aiza Zeyati Zamani. They explained that when MDEC was first started, it was primarily concerned with trying to create jobs in the region, but in 2003/2004 it took on a more proactive approach to ensuring that not only were jobs being created, but that skilled resources were trained and ready to fill them. By partnering with local Project Management training Specialist like the Advanced Technologies Studies Center (ATSC), they have been able to grow from 80 PMPs at the start of 2005 to over 2000 in 2009. This significant growth has contributed to the recent trend that has led many multinational foreign-owned organizations to establish a presence in Cyberjaya. Cyberjaya is the heart of MSC Malaysia, and for many foreign-owned companies doing business in Malaysia it serves as the location of choice for their Project Management Centre of Excellence, serving the needs of project management expertise across the entire Asia Pacific region.

The work of MDEC extends well beyond just promoting traditional project management best practices. In fact, it addresses technology concerns extending across all verticals. This includes providing education, mentoring and support for everything from Microsoft to Cisco technologies, to ITIL and to innovative and leadership programs, and Agile approaches to technology such as Scrum. In fact this December ATSC hosted one of the first Certified Scrum Master training sessions in Malaysia and is poised to help Agile grow in the region to support projects that require an alternative approach to traditional project management.

The work between MDEC, local organizations like ATSC and groups like the IT&T SIG are a model for how various groups around the globe can come together to help bring focus to new and emerging ideas in regions that are growing and establishing their role in the global IT workscape. The IT&T SIG is very proud to be able to contribute to continued growth in the region and is looking forward to exciting new things in 2010.

Social Media and Personal Branding: Episode 3 - An Interview with John Vajda
(Please note - John's new twitter handle is @PMmashable)

Project Potion Episode 1: The Green Thing

Project Potion Episode 2 : 2009 Year End Lessons Learned with Bas and Dave